Joe and I have a membership at the Royal Ontario Museum and we try to use it fairly often. We go over for an hour or so and look at a room. We figure it will take us a long time to see the whole thing. This weekend we popped over to see the Caribana exhibition, knowing it was only there for a few days more. We rode to the second floor and found the exhibit. I was immediately disappointed because, though the room was full of wonderful painting, I had hoped that there would be some of the wonderful costumes that the celebration is famous for, but, oh well. We started to look at the artwork and immediately forgot any disappointment.
Then we turned a corner and there was a small doorway between this gallery and another, very small room. I stopped, feeling looked at. I glanced through the door and saw a remarkable portrait hanging on the wall. The eyes did not exactly, accuse, but they were not in any way, forgiving. I have seldom been arrested by an image or a picture so I waved to Joe letting him know that I was going to investigate the room and see what was the purpose of the photographs. Entering I saw the title of the exhibit House Calls. The pictures were taken by a doctor who brought his camera along on house calls to those were were shut in or house bound.
The show was very, very small but it managed huge effect. The stories of the individuals allowed us to understand the journeys that showed on their faces. The lined faces were like road maps, some showed paths to joy, others showed highways to despair. But the eyes. They were uncompromising. These were people who knew isolation and loneliness, abandonment and neglect. These were people who created society and then, suddenly, found themselves discarded.
We spent a very long time in the room. Many others came in, many others turned immediately and left. One woman, dragging a boy of maybe 10, said, 'I don't understand why they would subject us to this kind of thing.' In my heart, I responded, 'I do.'
Afterwards we went back into the Caribana show and I loved how several of the artists incorporated words into their paintings. One was of a proud woman with big hair. Words of power and encouragement were woven into her hair making it a halo of affirmation. Another had a child reading history, and words above the child exhorted him to learn of the kings and queens and warriors of the past and then know that he will be who he is meant to be. (I apologize, I didn't bring a pen or a pencil and I am writing from memory these are my words about their words, not quotes.)
It was just to be a day of wandering and it turned into a day of thinking. About a room full of people lost and a room full of people found. Of community on one hand, of isolation on the other. We quietly left the museum thinking.
That's what museums are supposed to do, leave you with more than you came in with. Give you more than you expected. Have you journeying to parts of your mind and your heart and your soul that you needed to go.
And all this on a day off.